In utero and lactational treatment with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin impairs mammary gland differentiation but does not block the response to exogenous estrogen in the postpubertal female rat

Toxicol Sci. 2001 Jul;62(1):46-53. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/62.1.46.


These experiments tested whether in utero and lactational exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) alters mammary gland differentiation, estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) expression levels, or the response to estrogen in the female postpubertal rat mammary gland. Pregnant Holtzman rats were administered a single oral dose of 1 microg/kg TCDD or vehicle on gestation-day 15. Exposed and non-exposed female offspring were weaned on postnatal day 21 and ovariectomized at 9 weeks of age. Two weeks later, both TCDD and control animals were divided into 3 groups, receiving treatment with placebo, 0.025, or 0.1 mg 17beta-estradiol pellet implants. After 48 h, mammary tissue was removed for analysis following euthanasia. TCDD-exposed mammary glands demonstrated impaired differentiation as measured by the distribution of terminal ductal structures and increased expression levels of ERalpha. The response to exogenous estrogen was tested in TCDD-exposed animals and compared to control non-exposed animals. Estrogen stimulation of the TCDD-exposed glands induced progesterone receptor expression and mammary gland differentiation as measured by a shift in distribution from terminal end buds and terminal ducts to Types I and II lobules. Control glands were better differentiated at baseline and did not exhibit any significant changes in the distribution of terminal ductal structures following estrogen stimulation. The increase in progesterone receptor-expression levels by exogenous estrogen in control glands was similar to the TCDD-exposed glands. These experiments demonstrate that in utero and lactational exposures to TCDD impair mammary gland differentiation but that TCDD-exposed mammary glands retain the ability to differentiate in response to estrogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / genetics
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Breast / drug effects*
  • Breast / growth & development
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • DNA Primers / chemistry
  • Estrogen Antagonists / toxicity*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Lactation / drug effects*
  • Ovariectomy
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Progesterone / genetics
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • Actins
  • DNA Primers
  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogens
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone